Remembering what I already knew

A few months ago I led a writing workshop called “Write More, Heal More” as part of my graduate school field study requirement. I worked with a small group of people, all of whom suffered from chronic pain and/or anxiety, and all of whom wanted to practice writing their way through some of their experiences.

The workshop members were all in wildly different places, so I found myself adjusting and individualizing goals on the fly. Some of them had stories they were already in the process of telling. Others were terrified to put anything on the page, let alone face the terrifying task of sharing their words, their experiences - even in a safe space.

Regardless, the main focus, the main message I reiterated again and again, is just how powerful and healing it can be to put our experiences on paper. To work through that fear and simply get it all down. And then, maybe when they were ready, to share their stories with other people so that they could know empathy, so that they could see they were not alone.

I bring this up now because after I wrote my last blog post, I had a terribly emotional day. I assume it was partly the fallout from getting that honest with myself - and partly the fear of having then shared that with others. Of feeling so exposed and vulnerable.

The next day, however, I awoke and I felt considerably better than I had in previous weeks. No clouds parted. I did not feel “cured” of my grief or depression. It’s just that the weight pressing down on me seemed a little less. I didn’t cry nearly as much. I didn’t ache quite as deeply. These are deep victories for the grieving.

And the only thing I’d done differently from other days prior was that I wrote about it. And then I put it out there.

This, perhaps, shouldn’t really have been an earth-shattering revelation to someone who had led that workshop a few months ago. But there's little perspective from inside grief. I had been too lost in the midst of it to remember what I know perhaps best, maybe at the very core of me: that writing heals.

I received a fair number of responses to my last blog post – a few comments here on the blog, a considerable number in the Facebook comments section. I also received a handful of really lovely, heartfelt, honest emails.

It was in receiving the emails and comments that I came to understand just how the process of having written – and shared – was helping me. What I had been missing, what I had been desperate for was to be heard, to be seen. I felt as if no one understood what I was going through – or, worse, that I had disappeared so far into grief and depression that no one could see me anymore. I was afraid I had been lost.

However, your comments and your letters told me that you heard me. You understood. I no longer felt like an invisible force field of anguish.

I had been afraid to write the post because I worried that what I was feeling was abnormal somehow. But you wrote and told me that you felt that way, too.

We had connected, because I remembered what I’m supposed to know in my bones: that this is what writing does. It connects.

Of course, I can – and do – make connections with people without writing. But making human connections is sometimes a numbers game. In writing and posting this stuff, I got honest with an awful lot of people from an awful lot of different parts of my life – including people I don’t necessarily know so well – all at the same time. Odds were good that someone out there would hear me, someone out there would get it and reach back to me and the tables would turn and I would be assuring them that their experience is normal.

And not to underwhelm with word choice: but isn’t that fucking amazing?

It's now a couple of days later, and I’m struggling again. Perhaps not as much as before. There is no chart to track the unpredictable waves. I'm smart enough to know that the grief comes and goes. I remember this from losing friends, from losing my mother. I know that I’m keeping some part of me steeled against it, as though I have any defenses against the onslaught of grief. As though it can’t bring me to my knees when it chooses. I know it’s a long, long road ahead. I’ve done this before.

But I want you to know – because you were kind enough to hear me, to see me, to hold me in your hearts – that it helped. It helped to use my voice. It helped to stand up and tell the truth, no matter how much my voice wavered, no matter how much my fear tried to shout me down. It helped when we took a moment, sat down, and wrote to each other.